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Everything in the house shone as the sun streamed in through the long French windows. The carved mahogany mantelpiece in one of the two front parlors had been polished until it sparkled, its carved rosettes and female busts oiled to perfection. The long marquetry table in the center of the room was equally handsome and had been equally well tended, although it was almost impossible to see it beneath the neat stacks of treasures that had been gathering there for weeks. Carved jades, enormous silver platters, lace tablecloths, two dozen magnificently carved crystal bowls, and at least three dozen silver salt and pepper shakers, and fourteen silver candelabra. The wedding gifts were lined up on the table, as though waiting for inspection and at the end of the table a pad and black fountain pen, where each name could be inscribed, the donor and the gift, to be thanked when the bride had time. One of the pantry maids dusted the offerings daily, and the butler had seen to it that the silver was polished, just as everything in the Driscoll mansion was. There was an aura of restrained opulence here, of enormous wealth that was clearly apparent but never flaunted. The heavy velvet drapes and lace curtains in the front parlor kept out curious eyes, as did the heavy gate surrounding the house, the well-tended hedge, the trees beyond. The Driscoll home was something of a fortress.
A female voice called out from the main hall just past the sweeping staircase. The voice was barely raised but one could hear it clearly, as a tall young woman with small hips, long legs, and delicately carved shoulders stepped into the front parlor. She wore a pink satin dressing gown, and she wore her reddish hair in a chignon, and she looked to be barely more than in her early twenties. There was a softness to the drape of the satin gown, yet there was nothing soft about her. She stood erect, looking directly at the table laden with gifts, her eyes moving slowly across the treasures, nodding slowly, and then stepping closer to the table to read the names she had written down . . . Astor . . . Tudor . . . Van Camp . . . Sterling . . . Flood . . . Watson . . . Crocker . . . Tobin. . . . They were the cream of San Francisco, of California . . . of the country. Fine names, fine people, handsome gifts. Yet she did not look excited as she took a quick step to the window and stood looking out at the gardens. They were immaculately kept, just as they had been ever since her childhood. She had always loved the tulips her grandmother planted each spring, a riot of color, and so different from the flowers in Honolulu . . . she had always loved this garden. She exhaled slowly, thinking of all she had to do that day, and then wheeled slowly on a pink satin heel, squinting dark blue eyes at the richly burdened table. The gifts certainly were pretty . . . and the bride would be too . . . if she ever went for a fitting. Audrey Driscoll glanced at her slender wrist, and the narrow diamond watch that had been her mother's. It had a small ruby clasp and she loved it.
There were two pantry maids on the main floor, a butler, an upstairs maid to tend to their bedrooms, and a cook belowstairs with a maid and an assistant of her own . . . two gardeners . . . a chauffeur . . . in all a staff of ten that kept Audrey very busy. And yet she was used to all this. She had been running the house for fourteen years now, since she had come to the house from Hawaii. She had been eleven then, and Annabelle seven, when her parents had died in Honolulu. There had been nowhere to come but here. Her mind drifted back to the foggy morning they'd arrived, as Annabelle clutched her hand and sobbed loudly, terrified. Her grandfather had sent his housekeeper to bring them back from the Islands, and she and Annabelle had been seasick all the way home, but not Audrey, never Audrey. It was she who nursed old Mrs. Miller, the housekeeper, when she died of influenza four years later. But it was Mrs. Miller who had taught Audrey everything there was to know about running a fine old house like this one. She had also taught her exactly what her grandfather expected. And Audrey had learned her lessons well. She ran his house to perfection.
The whisper of her pink satin dressing gown was the only sound in the empty room as she hurried into the dining room, took her place at the empty table and pressed the discreet ruby and jade bell push beside her seat. She took her breakfast here every morning, unlike her sister, who ate breakfast upstairs, on a tray covered with impeccably starched linen.
A maid in a gray uniform with stiff white apron, cuffs, and cap immediately appeared, glancing nervously at the tall young woman sitting so erect in the Queen Anne chair she always occupied at the foot of the table.
"Yes, Miss Driscoll?"
"Only coffee for me this morning, thank you, Mary."
"Yes, Miss Driscoll." Her eyes like blue glass, there was no smile as Audrey watched her. They were afraid of her, most of them, except those of them who knew her well . . . who remembered . . . the little girl careering around the lawn . . . the childhood games . . . the bicycle . . . the time she fell out of the Australian pine tree . . . but this Mary knew none of that. She was a girl of Audrey's years, and she knew only the woman with a firm hand, and strong ideas and only secretly a splendid sense of humor. It was hidden there in the dark blue eyes . . . it was there . . . if one knew how to find it. But too few did . . . she was only . . . MissDriscoll . . . the spinster. . . .
They called her the spinster sister. Annabelle was the beauty. It was no secret between them. And Edward Driscoll had always said it openly. Annabelle had the frail blond look of an angel, that look of total fragility that was so popular in the thirties . . . and the twenties . . . and decades and centuries before that. . . . Annabelle the little princess . . . the baby . . . Audrey could still remember holding her in her arms and crooning to her after their parents had died on the way home from Bora-Bora. Their father had never been able to resist an adventure, and their mother had followed him everywhere he went, for fear that he would leave her if she didn't. In the end, she had even followed him to the bottom of the ocean. The wreckage was never found. The ship went down in a storm two days out of Papeete, and the girls were left alone in the world, with only their grandfather . . . poor Annabelle had been terrified when she saw him, and Audrey had held her hand so tightly their fingers were white as he watched them. . . . Audrey smiled to herself as she thought of it. He had terrified them even then. Or tried to . . . especially poor little Annie.
Her coffee was poured from a silver pot with an ivory handle. It had come home with her from Honolulu, along with other treasures that had belonged to her parents. Her father had cared little for all of that, and most of what her mother had brought from the mainland had remained in crates. He was far more interested in jauntering around the world, far more in love with the albums he put together after his travels. Audrey had them still, on bookshelves in her room. Her grandfather hated seeing them, they only served to remind him of his loss . . . his only son . . . The Fool, he always called him. A wasted life . . . two wasted lives . . . and two little girls foisted on him. He pretended to hate the inconvenience at the time, and insisted they would have to make themselves useful. He had demanded that Annabelle learn to embroider and sew, and she had, but his demands of Audrey had been fruitless. She enjoyed neither sewing nor drawing, nor gardening, nor baking. She was hopeless at watercolors, wrote no poetry at all, hated museums, and the symphony even more . . . but she liked photography, and adventure books, and tales of distant, far-off places. She went to lectures given by absurd, remote scholars, and often stood out at land's end, her eyes closed, sniffing the sea, thinking of the distant shores reached by the fingertips of the Pacific Ocean. And she ran a fine house for him, had a good hand with the servants, checked over the books for him each week, kept the house well stocked, and saw to it that no one cheated him of a penny. She would have been good at running any business, except that there was none to run. Only the home of Edward Driscoll.
"The tea is ready, Mary?" Without looking at her watch, she knew that it was eight fifteen and she knew that her grandfather would be down at any moment, dressed as he was each morning, as though he still had an office to go to. He would harrumph, look at Audrey angrily, as he always did, refuse stolidly to speak to her, glare at her once or twice, sip his tea, read the newspaper, eat two soft-boiled eggs, one slice of toast, drink one more cup of English tea, and then bid her good morning. His morning ritual did not unnerve Audrey, who barely seemed to take notice of him. She had begun reading his newspaper when she was twelve, and had discussed it with him seriously whenever she had a chance. At first, he had been amused, and then eventually he had realized how much of it she absorbed and how well formed her opinions were. They had had their first major political disagreement on her thirteenth birthday and she hadn't spoken to him for a week, much to his delight. He had been terribly proud of her then, and still was. It was a great source of pleasure when shortly afterward she found her own paper at her place in the morning. Since then she read her paper every morning, and when he finally wished to speak to her, she was more than happy to discuss with him any items that had caught his interest. They would then proceed to argue horribly about everything they read, from world politics to local news, even to stories about dinner parties given by their friends. They rarely agreed on anything, which was why Annabelle hated having breakfast with them.
"Yes, miss. The tea is ready." The maid in the gray uniform said it as though gritting her teeth, bracing herself for an enemy attack, and a moment later it came. His careful step in the hall, as his impeccably shined shoes left the Persian rug for a moment before meeting another in the dining room, his growling harrumph as he pulled back his chair, sat down, and stared only for a fraction of an instant at Audrey, and then carefully unfolded his newspaper. The maid poured tea as he glared at her, and then cautiously he sipped it. By then, Audrey was engrossed in the news, totally unaware of how the summer sunlight shone on her copper hair, and her long delicate hands holding the newspaper. For an instant, he watched her, caught as he often was by her beauty, though she didn't know it. It was that which made her even more lovely, the fact that she never gave it any thought. Unlike her sister who thought about nothing else.
"Good morning." It was a full thirty minutes later before the words erupted from him, his immaculate white beard barely moving as he spoke, his blue eyes a blaze of summer sky that belied his eighty summers. The maid jumped as he spoke, as she did each morning. She hated serving him breakfast, just as Annabelle hated eating with him. Only Audrey seemed impervious to the gruffness of his manner. She acted no differently than she would have if he had smiled and kissed her hand and called her pretty names each morning.
There were no pretty names on Edward Driscoll's tongue. There never were. Never had been, except for his wife, but she had been dead for twenty years, and he had pretended to be hardened ever since then, and in many ways he was. He was a handsome, beautifully groomed man, once tall and still erect with snowy white hair, a full beard and handsome, broad shoulders. He walked with a careful but determined step, a silver-tipped ebony cane held in one powerful hand, as he gesticulated forcefully with the other. As he did now, glancing over at Audrey.
"I suppose you read the news. They nominated him, the fools. Damn fools, all of them." His voice boomed in the wood-paneled dining room as the young maid quaked and Audrey unsuccessfully concealed a smile. She met his eyes squarely with her own blue eyes, and there was a hint of similarity between them.
"I thought you'd be interested in reading that."
"Interested!" He shouted at her. "He doesn't have a chance, thank God. Hoover will get in again. But they should have gone with Smith instead of that idiot." He had been reading of Franklin Roosevelt's nomination at the Democratic Convention in Chicago, in Lippmann's column. And Audrey had easily anticipated his reaction. He was a staunch supporter of Herbert Hoover, in spite of the fact that this had been the worst year of the Depression thus far. But her grandfather had refused to acknowledge that. He still thought Hoover a fine man, despite the armies of starving unemployed across the nation. The Depression had not touched them, and so he found it impossible to fathom the extent to which it had touched others.
But Hoover's politics had caused Audrey's "defection," as Edward Driscoll called it. She was going to vote for the Democrats this time, and she was very pleased with Franklin Roosevelt's nomination.
"He won't get in, you know, so don't waste your time looking so pleased for him." Edward Driscoll looked irate as he set down the paper.
"He might. He really should." Her face sobered, thinking of the economic condition the country was in. It was terrifying, and it always upset her. Her grandfather didn't like talking about it, because doing so implied that it was Hoover's fault. Annabelle didn't seem to care what he said, but Audrey was very, very different. "Grandfather," she eyed him carefully now, fully aware of what she was doing and the reaction she would get from him, "how can you pretend that nothing is happening out there? This is 1932, scores of banks just went under in Chicago, right before the Democratic Convention, our whole country is out of work, starving in the streets. How the devil can you ignore that?"
"It's not his fault!" He banged a fist on the table and his eyes blazed.
"The hell it's not!" Audrey spoke heatedly but with an undertone of ironic candor.
"Audrey! Your language!" She did not apologize to him, she didn't feel she had to. He knew her well and she knew him. And she loved him dearly, whatever his politics were.
She smiled at him now as he glared ominously at her. "I'll make you a bet right now that Franklin Roosevelt gets in."
"Nonsense!" He brushed away the thought with a hand that had been only Republican for a lifetime.
"Five dollars says he does."
He narrowed his eyes at her. "You know, despite all my efforts, you have the manners of a truck driver."
Audrey Driscoll laughed and stood up, looking anything but that in the pink satin dressing gown with slippers to match, and there were tiny diamonds clipped to her ears.
From the Paperback edition.